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Teacher reflects of 36 years of kindergarten

June 02, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Decades ago, kindergartners used metal scissors that bent paper and caused left-handers to fumble. The youngsters often grew frustrated, only to wind up with sweaty palms that dampened paper and made it impossible to cut.

Today, they use scissors with plastic-coated handles that feature one opening specifically sized for the thumb and another for other fingers, thus eliminating confusion.

The switch in scissors means that everybody can cut, teacher Nancy Henry said.

Being able to cut correctly is one of the accomplishments in a child's life that makes his or her face light up, Henry said on the eve of her retirement from the Greencastle-Antrim School District.

"There is a way, and I can't tell you exactly how, these kids get into your heart and you just enjoy them. Everything they accomplish - there's the smile, the twinkle, the 'look what I did.' And that's teaching. That's the reward," Henry said.

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She said she will continue to volunteer in the schools after packing up 36 years of memories, notes, drawings and Martian fingers and eyeballs.

"I have some gimmicks I use particularly with beginning readers. ... We have Martian fingers and eyeballs. When the children read, they point with them, (and) I know they are looking at every word and have a one-to-one with the word," Henry said.

Reading has remained the greatest accomplishment for kindergartners over the years, she said.

"They love it when they can pick up a book and read, but then they get frustrated because they think they can pick up any book and read. ... The children leave kindergarten now reading, doing early reading. My average child has 20-plus sight words. My children 15 years ago would have come out with five to 7," Henry said.

Henry has managed a classroom in a building on South Washington Street and in the cafeteria at South Antrim and Shady Grove. She then taught in Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School before moving to the primary school about six years ago.

C. Gregory Hoover, director of elementary education, still recalls a conversation he had with Henry on his first day on the job after previously holding an administrator's post for secondary schools. Henry had a child who wouldn't get off the swings to return to the classroom and "had really kicked her a good shot in the knees," Hoover said.

"I said, 'Get him down here, and I'll take care of that,'" Hoover said.

However, Henry welcomed her new boss to elementary school life, told him that kind of thing happens frequently and said it shouldn't result in the kind of punishment that older students receive.

"She gave that child more chances. We saw great things from that child," Hoover said.

Each year, there are many requests for students to be placed in Henry's class, he said.

"You have people who had Mrs. Henry (and) who want their kids to have Mrs. Henry," said Hoover, whose own wife and son both were her pupils.

Casey Hoover, 8, remembers Henry referring to him and his classmates as "apples" when trying to line them up. Susan (Meek) Hoover and Henry still talk about how, as a member of Henry's first class in 1970, Susan fell backward while rocking on her chair and cut her head.

Henry said she will often be at a restaurant, mall or store and find herself hearing someone shout, "Mrs. Henry!" Usually, even with the adults, she will remember eyes or a smile.

"The first year that I went to graduation, I walked into the cafeteria at the high school, and a kid whose name who happened to be Vinny comes flying over and hollers, 'Mrs. Henry, do you remember me?' And the smile is what tipped me off. I said, 'Sure, Vinny. How are you?' He just stopped and said, 'I don't believe that,'" Henry said.

She said she also remembers "crazy little things" like the way a child printed, the drawings they made or quirky traits.

"When I think (of) 40 children a year, because that's basically what we have with morning and afternoon (kindergartens), over 36 years, I think of all those kids. I think, 'Man, I've touched a small village,'" Henry said.

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